The Staff Room - an insight into eduction in the district by Catherine Jackson

Catherine Jackson from Badsworth. New columist for the Pontefract and Castleford Express.'p307a436
Catherine Jackson from Badsworth. New columist for the Pontefract and Castleford Express.'p307a436

I used to worry that I was boring – boring and old.

Teaching has a way of making even the youngest person feel old.

It’s a fact that the minute you become a teacher you become middle-aged.

A teacher only four years older than the oldest students in the school becomes suddenly light years away from them in role and responsibility. They are no longer ‘one of us’ but ‘one of them’.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, I have not been in that position for some considerable time.

My own children are older than many of the pupils in my school; my hair is growing an increasing quantity of grey streaks. (I like to think it’s the way the light shines on it!) All of a sudden I find myself among the oldies – I say ‘among’ - I am not the oldest. I suppose I might still have a modicum of kudos left.

Nobody, I think, would describe me as ‘down with the kids’, in fact, some would probably laugh at the idea, but I do at least still have just a little ‘insider knowledge’ of adolescent trials and torments thanks to close personal experience.

Nevertheless, I cannot deny that I am one of the ‘oldies’ now. Despite the drawbacks which come with advancing years, for me, age is a good thing.

The poet Jenny Joseph says: ‘When I am old I shall wear purple’. Well I do that sometimes, and really rather enjoy it. Even though the catch up in terms of IT skills is something of a challenge, if not a constant puzzle, (the skills which I did have when I first began to work seemed to slip away from me without my noticing) I am definitely more comfortable with myself, my strengths and weaknesses and my limitations.

New educational practices, ideas and schemes tell us to teach this way, or that way. We have to use this technique or that technique. During my time teaching, I’ve probably tried most of them. New ideas which fell out of favour some time back have often returned in a somewhat re-hashed manner.

While I like the idea of many new techniques, and am not averse to trying a different tack sometimes, I’ve finally got the confidence to say that I know what works for me and what most certainly does not.

Whatever job we do, we are individuals with different characters and, either consciously or subconsciously, we adapt the job we do, with its specific horizons or confines, to our own unique personalities.

I have a head of department who shouts a lot - in a good way for the most part - and bounces in a rather Tigger-like manner across the classroom. He likes expansive gestures and flinging himself around the room.

My departmental colleague likes tables, charts and displays. Her room is immaculate and she is a whizz on the computer. Before I can even think about what key I need to press next in order to achieve something, she has finished typing and found what I hadn’t even managed to process in my mind, never mind express verbally.

I am not like either of them, yet now I can happily say, I am neither better nor worse than either one of them – just different. In fact, the strength of our department, I would go as far as to say, comes from the fact that we each teach the same subject in wholly different ways.

As a microcosm of life, the school is a good place to study how we all work together. Old must never be redundant. It has its place alongside the young and new and vital.

The question of retirement and whether teachers could, or should be in a classroom teaching youngsters when they are themselves approaching 70 years old, as the government seems to suggest we should, is a topic for another day.

The success of a school and society at large depends on its embracing differences and celebrating what each of us has to offer.

So I celebrate my boring-ness. I am quite possibly an Eeyore! Yet I know that there are pupils who learn best from my way of teaching.

Thank goodness that, for the other pupils who need a different approach, there is Tigger just along the corridor!